Mass for ‘Independence Day’: Catholic Patriotism or Americanist Inculturation?

Editor’s note: Tradition-loving Catholics are not all agreed on questions concerning the founding of the American Republic, and we at are well aware that Dr. Kwasniewski’s opinion, as expressed in the first paragraph of his article, will be considered controversial. Among our editors and contributors, there are divergent opinions on these matters, but we are all patriots to a man — meaning that we love our land and its people — and, moreover, as Catholics we desire the conversion of America to the one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation. That said, the errors of Americanism, so rightly impugned by the learned author of this piece, still very much afflict the Church today.

ON THE Fourth of July, citizens of the United States of America will observe “Independence Day,” a secular holiday if ever there was one, celebrating rebellion against political authority, a victory of Deism and Freemasonry over European tradition, and a culture of secularizing Protestantism. It may be fun to shoot off fireworks, enjoy barbecues with family and friends, and be proud of what our nation has accomplished (while not thinking too closely about how we have treated native Americans and countless other “inferiors” over the centuries), but one thing’s absolutely certain: it’s not a religious feast. This holiday is no holyday, although its observance is one of the few obligatory memorials in the USA.

And yet, not wishing to miss any opportunity for postconciliar “inculturation,” the U.S. version of the neo-Roman missal of Paul VI contains a “Mass for Independence Day.”

When I first learned of the existence of this Mass, I could not restrain my curiosity to see what it was like. As one who had been nourished on the sober words of Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae and Longinqua Oceaniwhere that great pope warns the American hierarchy not to over-celebrate aspects of the United States that are merely tolerable, not ideal, from a Catholic point of view, such as the “wall of separation” between Church and State, or the appetite for ecumenical ventures, or the tendency to exalt active and pragmatic approaches over contemplative and principled ones—I was eager to see how the prayers devised by the U.S. bishops would deftly embody the great social doctrine of Leo XIII, so that July 4th, for those who attended Mass, might become a moment of “formation,” as everyone likes to say nowadays: a time when our parochial patriotism could be expanded to embrace the social Kingship of Jesus Christ, the primacy of religion and the things of the spirit, and the unique vocation of American Catholics to convert and make disciples of their fellow citizens.

How naïve I was! The U.S. bishops devised a Mass of pan-Christian, flag-waving, self-glorifying sentimentalism.

The Collect:

Father of all nations and ages, we recall the day when our country claimed its place among the family of nations; for what has been achieved we give you thanks, for the work that still remains we ask your help, and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation, grant that, under your providence, our country may share your blessings with all the peoples of the earth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Manifest Destiny, anyone? Shades of Mormonism, and support for the Pentagon, which knows how to share the blessings of democracy and freedom—whether their recipients like it or not!

The prayer over the offerings:

Father, who have molded into one our nation, drawn from the peoples of many lands, grant, that as the grains of wheat become one bread and the many grapes one cup of wine, so we may before all others be instruments of your peace. Through Christ our Lord.

Should the unification of former British colonies under a Protestant-Deist constitutional regime be compared to the manufacturing of the bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice? The phrase “before all others” is especially unfortunate, since it has a double meaning: “in the sight of others,” and “holding the primacy above others”—a view known as American exceptionalism. In this prayer, America is presented as the Eucharistic city on the hill offered to God to bring about peace in the world.

The preface:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. He spoke to us a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters. His message took form in the vision of our founding fathers as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one. His message lives on in our midst as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow. And so, with hearts full of love, we join the angels today and every day of our lives, to sing your glory as we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts . . .

“His [Christ’s] message took form in the vision of our founding fathers as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one.” Are we so certain of that? Pope Leo XIII had his doubts, which he expressed on numerous occasions, about Enlightement social contract regimes and their understanding of liberty and secularity. The mystical language applied to old Israel and to the Church, new Israel, is now being applied to the Nation. “His message lives on in our midst as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow.” This sounds like the rhetoric found in ghostwritten State of the Union addresses.

The prayer after communion:

By showing us in this Eucharist, O Lord, a glimpse of the unity and joy of your people in heaven, deepen our unity and intensify our joy, that all who believe in you may work together to build the city of lasting peace. Through Christ our Lord.

What “city” is this referring to? If the heavenly Jerusalem, the prayer should be clearer. It is ambiguous, allowing “social justice warriors” to confuse the earthly city with the heavenly one, in the way familiar to the utopian and Marxist thought in vogue today in so many putatively Catholic quarters.

None of this is liturgical language. It has in fact nothing to do with the Sacrifice of the Mass and the worship of God. It is fluff and bilge.

The Mass for Independence Day even prescribes a Gloria—the great hymn of the angels and saints that the liturgical reform of 1969 excluded from nearly every feastday. But we must not neglect to sing it (or more probably, recite it) on a secular holiday.

This is not how Catholics in the United States of America should celebrate their nationhood or patriotism. We can do this far better by using traditional votive Masses: a Mass of thanksgiving for favors received; a Mass of reparation for sins committed; a Mass to beg for peace; a Mass for the conversion of the enemies of the Church. All of these are provided for in the traditional Missale Romanum and most still exist in the Pauline Missale Romanum. The Church always gives us appropriate ways to mark national holidays, without the need for recourse to a fabricated feastday with problematic propers.